These were the words chanted with pride by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Muslim Student Association at the campus of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on the night of Wednesday, May 18th. Their actions extended beyond words as they blockaded Jewish students from making their way to a film screening sponsored by the campus’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI) group. Sophomore Eliana Kopley remained on the phone with 9-1-1 emergency services as she tried to safely escape the angry mob that prevented her from even entering the university building.
Last month at UCI, the Muslim Student Union, Jewish Voice for Peace, SJP and the American Indian Student Association; hosted events on campus which were marketed under the title, “Anti-Zionism: The Roots of Oppression.” Jewish and pro-Israel students at UCI describe this week as a ‘fire of hate’ surrounding Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Choosing to have this anti-Israel week on the same week as Holocaust Remembrance Day is surely no coincidence and does two wrongs: It either makes the false assumption that Israel is the result of the Holocaust or it is just pure anti-Semitism.
As a firm believer in higher education, I believe whole-heartedly in the right of students to express their political views on campus. However, angry mobs like this are not simply expressing an opinion. They are obstructing the ability of others to learn and express their own opinions, while robbing them of their personal safety.
This is the United States of America in 2016. Yet it seems all too similar to the darker decades we have left behind.
Despite the recent obsession with political correctness in America, there is an increase in non-gendered bathrooms and yet a rise in anti-Semitism. Eliana Kopley is scared to walk alone on her university’s campus because she is Jewish and wanted to watch a documentary screened in a university building.
It seems that the anti-Israel movement in the US has turned an entire demographic into victims simply because of their religion. We are talking about 18 year old American students who have come to educate themselves at universities across the country and finding that they are in fact soldiers on the front lines of battle. Without choice, simply based on their religious affiliation, or perhaps the connotation of their names, these Jewish teenagers are targeted as ambassadors of the Israel Defense Forces, most likely with very little actual understanding of the situation in the Jewish State all the way across the world.
My heart aches when I think of what it must be like for them. Us or them. Choose sides in this battle of condescending self-righteousness. As if American teenagers were bequeathed with the power to profoundly understand the situation in the Middle East and provide a solution through violent demonstrations in cozy California. Jewish students are forced to either defend the Jewish State despite the threat of violence, or take the opposite stance feeling that as Jews they have to fight extra hard against Israel to outweigh the assumptions of support.
Gobbling down the skewed stories their professors feed them, these students are somehow now willing to support a terrorist organization all in the name of righteous liberalism. Ami Horowitz recently went around Portland State University claiming to be a representative of Hamas asking for donations for what he calls “suicide bombings, the poor man’s F15s to destroy Israel,” focusing on “soft targets like schools and cafes.” His requests were met with overwhelming support for his cause to destroy the Jewish State and students were actually willing to donate money.
There are so many pressures to be cool, successful, attractive, dress well and have the most “likes” on Facebook, and now on top of it all –they have to be anti-Israel, even in this time of hypersensitivity of political correctness. Perhaps this is why so many students not only went along with Horowitz’s calls for the destruction of Israel and terrorizing of its citizens, but they wanted to put their money where their mouth is.
They paint the story in black and white and thus see an all or nothing end-game: Israel or Palestine. Just the fact that the protesters chanted “F**k Israel, F**k the police” in one breath as if the two were the same, or at least analogous, speaks volumes on the oversimplification and ignorance of these people.
“Intifada, Intifada, Long Live the Intifada” chanted the angry mob as they pounded the doors and windows of the pro-Israel student event, trapping the students inside as they waited for the police to arrive. Just to remind everyone what the last intifada actually was. It was a nightmare of terror attacks: suicide bombings targeting civilians every other day, blowing up buses and restaurants , and –nightclubs of teenagers their own age. These students are calling for the terrorist attacks against the Israeli people.
So what is the solution? How do we move forward?
What if these non-Jewish students had the opportunity to see Israel and the West Bank for themselves? I am trying to show them the faces of those whose lives are so profoundly affected by the hate they are spreading. I want to show them the complexities on the ground and what it actually means to call for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish State. This is why I design Fact Finders Missions at Israel Experts.
We are taking mostly non-Jewish student leaders to Israel and the West Bank to see it with their own eyes. They will meet with people on both sides whose lives are existentially bound to this land and therefore to this conflict, in which the whole world feels they have a say. I have seen the faces of these students when it hits them –that they knew so little before and that they still have so much more to learn.
Let’s not blame or victimize either side because that is simply not productive. We must promote understanding and learning in place of the violent ignorance sweeping higher education institutions across the globe.
I am proud to say that this summer Israel Experts will be running the first Fact Finders Mission from the UC Irvine and Chapman University sponsored by Orange County Hillel. The students will meet with top members of Knesset, Supreme Court Justices, representatives of the Palestinian Authority, chief negotiators in various peace talks, and many others. The goal of the trip is to allow these young leaders to experience the realities on the ground and let them decide for themselves what they want to take away from and do with this experience.
Everyone has their biases. This is precisely why we expose the students to as many individuals and organizations as possible on both sides and all along the political spectrum so that they can gather as many facts as possible in their time in this region to deepen their understanding of the reality here. All of our participants thus far have done more than just that. The trips have had a profound effect on them as individuals, as Christians (or whatever their belief system may be), and as students in this campus battle. Let’s replace moral righteousness, hate, and black and white assumptions with experiential education and understanding.